SOUTH ORANGE, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — This weekend marks the 20th anniversary of the devastating dormitory fire that claimed the lives of three students and injured dozens of others at New Jersey’s Seton Hall University.
Three bells chime every hour at the South Orange home of the Pirates to honor the memory of the three freshman that lost their lives at Boland Hall in an early morning fire on Jan. 19, 2000.
Alvaro Llanos was one of the 58 injured.
“It’s been a long journey for me. I was burned about 56% of my body,” Llanos said.
Five years of hospital care and 30 surgeries later, Llanos is back on college campuses again, telling students what not to do.
“Once we heard the alarm going on, we should’ve gotten out of bed and got out. But sometimes we become complacent. We were complacent that night,” Llanos said.
Shawn Simons suffered third degree burns to his hands and face.
“At the age of 17, 18 years old, most kids think they’re invincible,” he said.
Like Llanos, Simons shares his scars with students on 250 college campuses each year. They represent what can happen when safety guidelines are ignored.
“Pay attention because you never know when you may be in a situation where you’ll have to use those tips,” Simons said.
Both men, who have dedicated their lives to fire safety, agree the most important tip is to always know where your exits are.
“Out of tragedy comes opportunities to improve,” South Orange Fire Chief John Sullivan said.
Shortly after the fire, New Jersey passed legislation requiring all dormitories to have smoke detectors.
“I will say with confidence that Seton Hall University is the most fire-safe campus in the country,” Sullivan said.
They now have smoke detectors and heat detectors hardwired to a system that alerts authorities directly. It’s one of the technologies they hope to implement on campuses nationwide with the new Federal Campus Fire Safety Education Act, unveiled Friday.
Since the Seton Hall tragedy, there have been 170 fire fatalities on college campuses nationwide. The hope is this bill would reduce deaths by helping students adopt fire safe habits and strategies.
The same facade of Boland Hall still stands, making it the oldest dorm on campus. Today, roughly 400 freshman call it home.